Women’s football: Saturday ‘3pm blackout slot’ backed as solution to help grow audience

Women's football: Saturday '3pm blackout slot' backed as solution to help grow audience

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Manchester City beat Manchester United on Sunday in front of a record 43,615 crowd at Old Trafford

Women’s football matches should be shown live during the Saturday afternoon blackout, the director of ITV Sport has said.

No matches are currently shown during the “3pm blackout” slot – 2.45pm-5:15pm – to encourage attendance at games.

But in July, football chiefs began exploring whether matches in the Women’s Super League could be televised on Saturday afternoons.

Niall Sloane, ITV’s director of sport, believes the slot should be “utilised”.

“Where else can women’s football fit into a weekend?” Sloane added.

“It is quite hard to find those slots. If that was preserved for women’s football I don’t think it’s going to impact the Premier League [or] the EFL (English Football League). I don’t think it will impact the non-league pyramid [either].”

The Premier League and EFL’s scheduling plans for their next broadcast cycles do not include games in that time slot.

In March 2021, it was announced the BBC would show the Women’s Super League on network free-to-air TV for the first time in a “landmark” three-year broadcast agreement, with games live across the BBC and Sky in the deal worth £7m-£8m per season. However, that deal runs out next summer.

Last season, WSL matches consistently kicked off at 11.30am on Saturdays and 6.45pm on Sundays to avoid scheduling clashes with men’s games.

Speaking at a Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting on women’s sport on Tuesday, BBC director of sport Barbara Slater said: “One thing that is really important is scheduling and giving women’s sports some space.

“At the moment it’s a very congested football schedule, so it’s whether football can come together to find a solution to give a window, an appointment to view, for women’s football.”

Slater added that window did not have to be Saturday afternoon, though suggested there was “a lot of logic” to scheduling matches then.

However, Jonathan Licht, managing director of Sky Sports, said it was important to avoid putting “all our eggs in one basket”.

“I understand and can see the perspective on three o’clock because as it stands, it’s the only one at the moment where no other football is being broadcast. I can see why you would naturally fall to a conclusion that that would be attractive,” he said.

“I do think it may not be so clear-cut though, because it’s the time when more people are attending football than any other time.”

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